Most books written today are authored for contemporary audiences. They are written to entertain or educate. The author usually hopes to gain some fame, or more importantly make money. The publishing company hopes to sell many copies of the book, paying royalties to the author and covering publication costs.
The Book of Mormon ran very much counter to that model, however.
It was written anciently by four major writers (Nephi, Jacob, Mormon, and Moroni) and a dozen different minor writers, over a time period separated from us by over 1,400 years. None of them ever saw a dime for their efforts, nor attended book signings for their adoring readers. These authors wrote with an intended audience of our day and age. As if to reassure us that this time lapse was not going to be an issue, Moroni explained that there was revelation and inspiration sent from above. He said, “I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing.” i He was shown a vision of us, living in the last days and the dispensation of the fulness of times.
If a miracle is defined as an event that defies conventional wisdom and explanation, then The Book of Mormon is nothing short of a miracle. From the faithful efforts that the ancient writers took to produce it; the miraculous preservation of the book until its modern discovery and translation, and the gift of translation and ability to be published in the place and time that it came about, it is by the grace and tender mercies of God that we can hold it in a convenient paperback copy in our hand today.
Comparable to the Bible, the Book of Mormon combines limited historical information with prophecies and examples of faith demonstrated. In The Book of Mormon, the people are from two ancient American civilizations, between them covering a time period of approximately 2000 B.C. through 400 A.D. Unlike the Bible, most of the material was arranged and organized chronologically, and condensed in a sort of inspired “Reader’s Digest” format by Mormon, a prophet and historian. Mormon died before he could finish the last of the book, and his son Moroni finished the book according to his father’s instructions, and named the volume after his father. ii
The purpose is not to be a secular history book. Mormon admitted “I cannot write the hundredth part of the things of my people.” iii Rather, it was to share the very best of the prophecies and faith-promoting experiences of the people. As Nephi finished his writings and handed the records over to his younger brother, he “gave me, Jacob, a commandment that I should write upon these plates a few of the things which I considered to be most precious; that I should not touch, save it were lightly, concerning the history of this people which are called the people of Nephi. For he said that the history of his people should be engraven [on other records]. … And if there were preaching which was sacred, or revelation which was great, or prophesying, that I should engraven the heads of them upon these plates, and touch upon them as much as it were possible, for Christ’s sake, and for the sake of our people.” iv
The process of writing a book that would survive the ages was not easy. It was certainly not like typing up a blog entry on the computer. It was not even as simple as putting pen to paper and scribbling out ideas. These authors were creating something to last, and they took care and craftsmanship to do it right. Joseph Smith, the modern-day discoverer and translator of the work, described the ancient manuscript this way. “These records were engraven on [metal] plates which had the appearance of gold; each plate was six inches wide and eight inches long, and not quite so thick as common tin. They were filled with engravings, in Egyptian characters, and bound together in a volume as the leaves of a book, with three rings running through the whole. The volume was something near six inches in thickness, a part of which was sealed. The characters on the unsealed part were small, and beautifully engraved. The whole book exhibited many marks of antiquity in its construction, and much skill in the art of engraving.” v
Jacob described the process and purpose of writing like this: “… I cannot write but a little of my words, because of the difficulty of engraving our words upon plates. And we know that the things which we write upon plates must remain; But whatsoever things we write upon anything save it be upon plates must perish and vanish away; but we can write a few words upon plates, which will give our children, and also our beloved brethren, a small degree of knowledge concerning us, or concerning their fathers—Now in this thing we do rejoice; and we labor diligently to engraven these words upon plates, hoping that our beloved brethren and our children will receive them with thankful hearts, and look upon them that they may learn with joy and not with sorrow, neither with contempt, concerning their first parents.” vi
What motivated them to “labor diligently” and do this? Their purpose was to declare the endless Lordship of Jesus Christ! Jacob explained “For, for this intent have we written these things, that they may know that we knew of Christ, and we had a hope of his glory many hundred years before his coming; and not only we ourselves had a hope of his glory, but also all the holy prophets which were before us.” vii His brother Nephi wrote, “For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do. … We are made alive in Christ because of our faith…. And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.” viii
It is also miraculous and insightful to recognize that Nephi, Jacob, Mormon, and Moroni were each eyewitnesses of the Lord. The translator of the work, Joseph Smith Jr, was also an eyewitness of the Lord. Thus, their testimonies of the Savior carry more weight, and should inspire the reader that much more. Their writings, and their lives, centered upon the Lord, His mission, and His ministry. Jacob, for example, repeatedly referred to the atonement and resurrection of Christ. “Beloved brethren,” wrote Jacob, “be reconciled unto [God] through the atonement of Christ, his Only Begotten Son, and ye may obtain a resurrection, … and be presented as the first-fruits of Christ unto God. And now, … why not speak of the atonement of Christ, and attain to a perfect knowledge of him,” and a “knowledge of a resurrection and the world to come?” Jacob’s advice is priceless and timeless. ix
In the introduction of the Book of Mormon, it states that the book contains “the fulness of the everlasting gospel.” x Some have argued that because the Book of Mormon does not talk about every aspect of the church and its doctrines, it cannot contain a “fulness.” The “fulness” that this statement refers to, however, is something different. Jesus Himself defined “the everlasting gospel” when He taught, “This is the gospel which I have given unto you—that I came into the world to do the will of my Father, because my Father sent me.” Then He amplified that one-sentence definition: “My Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross; and after that I had been lifted up upon the cross, that I might draw all men unto me.” xi
This unique mortal mission of the Lord—the gospel as He defined it—we know as the Atonement. The fulness of the gospel, therefore, connotes a fuller comprehension of the Atonement. Using that definition, the Bible also contains a fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. However, we do not obtain our complete and full understanding from a study of the Bible alone. Within the King James Version of the New Testament, the word atonement is mentioned only once. Within the Book of Mormon, it appears (in its various forms) 39 times! xii The Book of Mormon also contains more references to the resurrection than does the Bible. xiii
The Savior referred to the Book of Mormon as His “new covenant” with the house of Israel. xiv It is a tangible sign of Christ’s culminating covenant with mankind. While it certainly could have been possible for the rise of the Church in the last days to have happened without it, how much better has it been to have this book, testifying of Christ anew and providing a sign of His love and concern for us today?! As a third testament, its divine teachings clarify doctrine and unify the Old Testament with the New Testament, and support the scriptural covenants, testaments, and witnesses since the beginning of time in regards toward the Atonement of Jesus Christ, the central act of all human history. The Book of Mormon is the most important religious text to be revealed from God to man “since the writings of the New Testament were compiled nearly two millennia ago.” xv Joseph Smith declared the Book of Mormon to be “the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.” xvi It is the only book that the Lord Himself has testified to be true. xvii
Further evidence of the miracle is that the King James Version of the Holy Bible was produced by 50 English scholars over a period of 7 years. That roughly equates to translating at the rate of one page per day. Still today, expert translators do well if they can also translate scripture at the rate of one page per day. Joseph Smith, working only with a scribe, translated the Book of Mormon at the rate of about 10 pages per day, completing the task in about 85 days! xviii (Many of us feel good if we can read the book in that time.)
It becomes even more remarkable considering the circumstances in which Joseph lived during those three months. During that time, he and his wife endured constant distractions and hostility. Enemies heard rumors that he talked with angels and had found gold, and sought to harass or steal. To get away from this, Joseph Smith moved more than 100 miles from Harmony, Pennsylvania, to Fayette, New York. He applied for a copyright to his book. He received 12 revelations which would eventually become sections of Doctrine and Covenants. xix Heavenly beings restored the holy priesthood. And yet, he still translated this book of literary, doctrinal, and Semitic complexity in less than three months time.
Since the book’s introduction, some have rebelled against it, saying that we don’t need additional scripture beyond what the Holy Bible provided. Nephi foresaw that argument, and felt that the Lord would have responded by saying “Wherefore murmur ye, because that ye shall receive more of my word? Know ye not that the testimony of two nations is a witness unto you that I am God, that I remember one nation like unto another? Wherefore, I speak the same words unto one nation like unto another. And when the two nations shall run together the testimony of the two nations shall run together also.” xx
When Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum started for Carthage, Illinois, knowing that they were headed for their own execution, Hyrum read these few short verses from the 12th chapter of Ether to comfort the heart of his brother: “Thou hast been faithful; wherefore . . . thou shalt be made strong, even unto the sitting down in the place which I have prepared in the mansions of my Father. And now I, Moroni, bid farewell . . . until we shall meet before the judgment-seat of Christ.” xxi Later, when incarcerated in the jail, Joseph the Prophet turned to the guards who held him captive and bore a powerful testimony of the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon. These action powerfully adds to the thousands of other small elements of testimony to the divinity of the Book of Mormon! In this their greatest—and last—hour of need, I ask you: would these men blaspheme before God by continuing to fix their lives, their honor, and their own search for eternal salvation on a book (and by implication a church and a ministry) which they had fictitiously created? xxii
“No wicked man could write such a book as this; and no good man would write it, unless it were true and he were commanded of God to do so.” xxiii
Embrace the Book of Mormon! Come to full faith in this latter-day work! Find the fullest measure of peace and comfort in these “last days” – our times! Embrace the divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ, of whom it testifies! Joseph Smith said that “he who reads it oftenest will like it best….” xxiv Read it ‘oftenest,’ and love the book. Let its witness of Jesus Christ enter your heart. The Book of Mormon is true! I so testify in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
ii The Book of Mormon, Introduction
iv Jacob 1:2-4
v History of the Church, 4:536–41; from a letter from Joseph Smith written at the request of John Wentworth and George Barstow, Nauvoo, Illinois, published in Times and Seasons, Mar. 1, 1842, pp. 706–10.
vi Jacob 4:1-3 (Punctuation altered to accommodate ellipsis)
vii Jacob 4:4
viii 2 Nephi 25:23-26
xii Romans 5:11; Atonement: 28 times; atone, atoning, or atoned: 8 times; plus atoneth: 3 times; equals 39 times. Within several verses, the word atonement appears more than once (see 2 Ne. 9:7; Alma 34:9; Alma 42:23).
xvi History of the Church, 4:461. See also The Book of Mormon, Introduction.
xvii See Doctrine and Covenants 17:6.
xviii From 7 April to 30 June 1829. After subtracting time spent for other contemporary tasks, working time available was closer to 55 days. The present edition of the Book of Mormon contains 531 pages. Assuming 55 days for the work of translation, the rate is calculated as 9.7 present-day pages per day. This estimate does not include the first 116 handwritten pages comprising “The Book of Lehi” that were lost and never re-translated.
xx 2 Nephi 29:8
xxii Jeffrey R. Holland, “Safety for the Soul,” Ensign, Nov 2009, 88–90
xxiv History of the Church, 2:11, 14; punctuation modernized; paragraph divisions altered; from “The Elders of the Church in Kirtland, to Their Brethren Abroad,” Jan. 22, 1834, published in Evening and Morning Star, Feb. 1834, p. 136; Mar. 1834, p. 142.
One more acknowledgment must go to Russell M. Nelson’s address, “A Testimony of the Book of Mormon” (Ensign, Nov 1999, 69), from which much of my talk was based.